Nematode worms use slugs like taxis to ferry them around the garden, study finds

The worms only stay inside the slugs for a day and it is thought that long journeys would be made using a number of slugs

Ian Johnston@montaukian
Monday 13 July 2015 00:03
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Nematodes are the most numerous multicellular animals on earth. A handful of soil will contain thousands of the microscopic worms, many of them parasites of insects, plants or animals
Nematodes are the most numerous multicellular animals on earth. A handful of soil will contain thousands of the microscopic worms, many of them parasites of insects, plants or animals

Small worms use slugs like taxis to ferry them around the garden as they look for rotting fruit and vegetation to eat, according to new research.

The nematode worms get into the slugs’ intestines then travel to a different part of the garden where they are excreted, The Daily Telegraph reported. They may also use woodlice and centipedes in the same way.

Previously it was a mystery as to how the worms managed to make relatively long journeys.

Dr Hinrich Schulenburg, of Christian-Albrechts University in Germany, who led the research, said: “Even though nematode worms are one of the most intensively studied organisms in almost all biological disciplines, we still have very little understanding of their natural ecology.

“Our study reveals a previously unknown nematode lifestyle within the guts of slugs. The worms appear to have evolved to persist in the harsh environment of slug intestines, similar to a symbiont or even a parasite.”

As part of the research, which was reported in the BMC Ecology journal, the scientists examined more than 600 slugs and 400 other invertebrates such as flies, centipedes, spiders, beetles and locusts.

Tests established the worms were able to survive and reproduce in the guts of slugs, woodlice and centipedes.

The worms only stayed inside the slugs for a day and it is thought that long journeys would be made using a number of slugs, which appeared to be unharmed.

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